Travel to West Coast Sri Lanka

The West Coast, between the cities of Colombo and Galle, was one of the first regions in the island developed for tourism, and its 100 kilometre coastline has the largest concentration of hotels and guest houses in Sri Lanka. Blessed with miles of palm-fringed golden beaches and tranquil mangrove-lined lagoons, the West Coast has been the primary value-for-money destination for travellers to the island. The region also features some of the island’s best craftsmen who produce a variety of artefacts and who are particularly adept in the restoration of antique furniture, which is found in abundance. The West Coast is also famous for its turtle hatcheries, a favourite among tourists who take delight in the ‘rubbery’ newly hatched turtles. The coastline provides an interesting mix of cultures and religions with numerous Buddhist temples, churches and mosques in evidence. The sun-kissed beaches of the West Coast amidst lush tropical vegetation has been a long favoured haunt for sun worshippers. And in the absence of tourism infrastructure on the East Coast due to the three-decade long internal conflict, this region has shouldered much of the island’s tourism endeavours.

Must Do List

Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery
Party at the regular theme events in Hikkaduwa
Watersports in Bentota
Lunuganga – Geofrey Bawa’s legendary residence
Bevis Bawa’s Brief Garden
Traditional mask makers in Ambalangoda
River safari on mangrove lined waterways
Elephant Foot drummers of Hikkaduwa

West Coast – In Focus

Kalutara – The town of Kalutara gets its name from the river “Kalu Ganga” where its waters flow out to the sea. Kalutara was mainly a cinnamon growing region which was much made use of by the Dutch colonists, who even built a complex network of canals to help in the transport of the spice to the coast. When the British arrived most of the cinnamon plantations were converted into rubber estates and these remain productive to this day. Kalutara is also home to the historic Bo tree, which grew from a sapling from the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. The Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri as a sapling from the Bo tree in Bihar, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Sangamitta Theri instructed that from the Sri Maha Bodhi, 32 saplings should be planted at various points in the country and Kalutara was one of the places nominated by her to receive this honour.

Beruwela/Bentota – From ancient times the West Coast has been an active area of trading and in fact, the first Moors to settle in the island were Arab traders who arrived at the small port of Beruwela. Today, Beruwela and adjoining Bentota boast some of the best hotels on this stretch of coastline including several that have been constructed on a sand bar that is separated by a river from the main land. These hotels have the benefit of both, beach and river fronts, with the latter lending itself to being a leading water sports location.

The West Coast is warm and humid with an average temperature of 27°C and relative humidity fluctuating between 70% during the day and 90% at night. This can be quite oppressive in built up areas but is much more manageable outside the major towns and cities. Most of the rainfall experienced in the region falls between May and August during the South-West monsoon.

The key towns of Kalutara, Beruwela, Bentota and Hikkaduwa all lie on the Galle Road, which is the main trunk route leading from Colombo to Galle. The train service is regular and runs parallel to the Galle Road, stopping at all the major stations and can make for a very picturesque journey, albeit a not too comfortable one.

Colombo to Bentota – 2 hours
Airport to Bentota – 3 hours
Bentota to Hikkaduwa – 45 minutes
Bentota to Galle – 1.5 hours
Kandy to Kalutara – 4 hours
Nuwara Eliya to Galle – 6 hours
Uda Walawe to Galle – 3.5 hours

As the West coast was the first region to be developed under a government initiative as a resort destination in Sri Lanka it abounds with many well priced hotels. Although the line-up of hotels on the coast begins from Kalutara onwards, it is further South that the majority of the best properties lie. Beruwela and Bentota offer mainly package tour type hotels but have a charm and ambience of their own. The 5 Star Taj Exotica is probably the best in the area and Eden Hotel is not far behind. Further South in Hikkaduwa Amaya Reef is a mid-range property offering good value for money.

The region also features five creations by the renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa; his personal residence Lunuganga which he never stopped improving till he died, and Brief Garden which he personally oversaw the landscaping of in Bentota; Blue Waters in Kalutara which bears his trademark style in design; the masterpiece of Jetwing Lighthouse on a handpicked knoll on the rocky coast just before Galle and the Heritance Ahungalla, which was one of his earliest works in the leisure industry. Wellness resorts of note in the region are the Siddhalepa Ayurveda Resort in Wadduwa and the Paradise Island Health Resort which lies in a lagoon and has to be accessed by ferry.

The West Coast is a haven for souvenir shoppers as all along the coast little shops sell a wide range of handicrafts. The most popular of these are the traditional devil masks which make colourful wall hangings, but other items include puppets, ornaments and brightly dyed and woven reed items like purses and boxes. For water sport enthusiasts, Hikkaduwa offers great bargains on surfing and diving gear.

Attractions & Events

Located 35km South of Colombo, Wadduwa is a small fishing village famous for its toddy tapping. Toddy or palm wine is the fermented sap of the coconut palm and has a unique aroma which is repulsive to some but is considered a refreshing and not too intoxicating beverage by others. Toddy tappers agilely walk on single strands of rope tied between trees and collect the sap from the coconut flower in large earthen pots. The town is also famous for its coir products of rugs, brooms and carpets. The Kalu Ganga or river nearby is good for water sport activities and offers good for river safaris.

The town of Kalutara, lying just South of Colombo is most famous for its sacred Bo tree which is a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. The Gangatilaka Vihara just opposite the Bo tree was built in its honour and marks the site of an ancient temple that was once stood here, and its huge dagoba can be seen for miles around. The outer dome of the dagoba is hollow and has a beautifully painted interior which houses a smaller dagoba within it. It is a customary practice for passing travelers to stop and make a donation at the roadside tills to ensure the safety and success of their journey.

Beruwela has many interesting locations for sightseeing such as the Turtle Hatchery, Mask Factory, Galle Fort, Mini Zoo, and the famous Brief Garden and “Lunuganga”, which are the creation of the world renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa. An excellent beach resort on the South Western coast with Beruwela has many hotels providing excellent facilities for tourists. It is also is one of the earliest Moor settlements in the country. Beruwela is one of the best locations for water sports such as water scooter rides, wind surfing, para-sailing, water skiing, and river cruising and it also has the facilities for deep-sea fishing and wreck and reef diving.

Bentota is the first National Holiday Resort project developed by the Ceylon Tourist Board as a planned resort and has six tourist hotels along the beach in a span of 7km. Water sports facilities are available as in the Beruwela Resort. Many interesting sightseeing tours are available from here, such as the Turtle Hatchery, Mask factory, Galle Fort, Mini Zoo, Brief Garden Brief and Lunuganga and boat trips on the Bentota River.

Ambalangoda is a charming town on the coast most famous for its “devil-dancers” and mask carvers. You will be fortunate to encounter an actual bali (exorcism) or kolam (folk drama) performance as these rituals are not performed other than when the occasion calls for it. On the other hand, if you do manage to attend a ceremony, you can be assured that it is the real thing. The brightly coloured masks of Ambalangoda are created based on traditional masks used by shamanic healers for curing patients suffering from 18 types of ailments which they could suffer from.

Hikkaduwa is one of the most popular beach resorts in the South Western coast of the Island. The beautiful coral reef in shallow water protected by a rock formation is an excellent place for viewing the corals. A multitude of dazzling reef fish swimming among the corals is a huge attraction for many and snorkeling and diving facilities are available. Those who prefer not to get their feet wet can see the fish from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat. More adventurous souls can go diving in the Black Coral Gardens, beyond the reef in deeper waters or explore any of the several shipwrecks around Hikkaduwa. Most hotels provide facilities for deep-sea fishing trips and there are several Diving Schools with “PADI” Dive Masters for instructors. Surfers find the break at Hikkaduwa very much to their liking as well. Bright batiks, masks, jewelry and other crafts are sold out of quaint shops all along Hikkaduwa’s Galle Road strip.

Kosgoda turtle hatchery
The Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery breeds and releases five species of turtles – Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). Eggs laid by adult females are collected by villagers and fishermen are purchased by the Kosgoda Hatchery and kept in sandy pens until they hatched, and then kept in seawater tanks and released to the sea at night. The Kosgoda Hatchery has released more than 1,750,000 young turtles to the sea and was established through an endowment by the Hasselblad Estate.

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